Kansas City Royals: 2008, the Year of the Whipper-Snappers?

JR DeLaneyCorrespondent IMarch 18, 2008

Ah, the smell of cheap hot dogs (that sell for $4) and the laughter of fans who witness a poor soul dump nachos (for $7) all over the front of their lap as they try to sit back in their seat. Yes, it’s that time of year again when stadiums begin to rev up for the oncoming mobs of die hard fans (and your local celebrity appearance – Ben Affleck for the BoSox) in anticipation that their team will be World Series Champions for the ’08 season. (If you’re a fan of the Devil Rays, Marlins, or *gasps* Royals, you don’t have this issue).

But, as much as I want to gasp and stand in the shadows, I am a Kansas City Royals fan. I will now be accepting donations to allow my team to actually afford the talent they bring up in the minors. (Beltran, Dye, Damon, etc. etc. etc.)

Enough of the desperation thoughts of what “could have been” and the glory days of Brett, White, and Saberhagen, let’s get it on with the 2008 Kansas City Royals!  Let's look at what rookie manager Trey Hillman has to work with, especially when talking to his team around home plate after a game.

2008 Outlook: Young. Talented. Unproven. That sums up what this years version of the Royals represent.  Outstanding talent lines the roster, enough to make a good southern boy drool at the thought of fried chicken and cornbread. (And yes, it is noon time here, and I’m hungry!) Hochevar is a stud as is Gordon. With a pitching staff that can keep them in the game, the offense is the only aspect that really needs dramatic improvement from the 2007 roster. With a big name signee (Guillen) that is outside the norm for Glass to pursue and sign, that improvement seems to be coming sooner rather than later. I can actually state, with confidence, my prediction for the 2008 Kansas City Royals… *drum roll*… 4th place in the AL Central. They play in a tough division, possibly the toughest in regards to true competition and not a 2 man show (Boston – New York) or a 1 trick pony (Angels). Their record will reflect their improvement, as it won’t quite touch upon .500, but it’ll hover there most of the season, possibly over for a bit, until the season takes its toll upon the youth. Prediction: 80-82 (+/- 3 games)

Position Analysis:
1B: Maybe the toughest battle on the roster. Todd Shealy, having come over from the Rockies two years ago, suffered a terrible season last year, plagued by injuries. Now healthy, he’s a hoss, able to put up 20+ homers a year and drive in 80+ ribbies. The question here is, CAN he stay healthy? Thus enters the competition. Billy Butler. More than likely, Butler will move to the OF or primarily serve as DH (now that the slot is open minus Sweeney… finally) and offer quite the punch in his role there. His play last year was good, but once he is used to the pitching staffs of major league rosters, watch out, as he could become another beast able to pop over 25 homers and just maybe, *fingers crossed*, stay with the Royals past a break out year.

2B: Grudzielanek. That’s all that needs said. Gold glove winner and veteran leadership for this young team. He might be nearing the end of his career, but he can still play.

3B: Alex! Gordon! Stud extraordinaire. Yes, he started out shaky last year, reaching nomad land in the sub .200 batting average, but boy did he come on later in the year. He will have a break out season, possible All-Star (hey, someone needs to replace Rodriguez at 3B sometime…) and prove to Glass that sometimes, when you spend money on your team, you can actually get a good player in return. Now, Alex, just don’t ask for the farm when it comes time to sign a long term deal.

SS: Tony Pena. No, not the All-Star catcher and former manager, his son. After completing a season under his belt as a starter, he shows some excellent play in the field. Now, yes, he is absent from the mindset of being a belter of balls over the far away fence, but his average is not so bad. His base running will get better, and if he can get on base, he will be an excellent 2 or 7 hole batter in the lineup.

Utility: Esteban German filled this role quite a bit last year, and did a decent job. He did get looked at a bit by other teams, but he has yet to prove that he could be a full time starter at a single position. He is one of those good “jack of all trades, master at none” type of players.

C: John Buck will start, and had a good year last year as he continues to develop into a top-tier everyday starter. Miguel Olivo has been a stud in spring training and was brought in to back up Buck, but if he slips, you could see Olivo starting more so than just giving a day off here or there to the man.

OF: Teahen, Guillen, and DeJesús will be your starters, with Costa and Gathright getting considerable playing time. Guillen starts purely for his bat, though he may shift to DH if Shealy has a bad spring session and Butler takes over 1B. If so, that’ll open up a spot for Gathright and his pure speed that needs to be unleashed at will upon the opposition. Teahen is going to continue to be an offensive threat (one of the few) and DeJesús might just be biding his time in Kansas City as Gathright is a centerfielder as well. Don’t be surprised to see DeJesús on the move near the trading deadline if the Royals are completely out of any sort of playoff race (stop laughing) and if another team needs a good plug in centerfield to bring them a championship. Let’s face it… the Royals can’t keep centerfields (Beltran, Damon).

SP: Meche will continue to prove to the masses that he is indeed a worthy ace for a staff. Beyond that, it gets kind of muddy as to what the production will be. Bannister will try to keep the doubters muted by having a good sophomore year after a break out year last year as he came over from the Mets. Greinke is a hit or miss, and if he misses too much, he will drop to the bull pen to work on his control… again… Tomko is a veteran, but is a wild card. He might eat up innings, but might not stop giving up runs for the other team. For the last starter position, look at Luke Hochevar, the rookie, to possibly fill in here as the stud pick from 2006 (1st rd, 1st pick) has been showing quite the stuff in Sunrise, Arizona. He might not start here at the beginning of the year, but he’ll be there by mid-season. In the mean time, De La Rosa or Maroth might fill in during the “pre-Luke” era.

RP: Soria was a surprise at getting 17 saves last year and, while not having one or two pitches that dominate batters, he does provide a plethora of pitches that are all average-above average that can get people out. The bullpen is full of players, young (Gobble, Peralta), full of veterans (Mahay, Bale) newcomers (Yabuta) and then, possibly the “I thought he retired” one (Nomo) that will keep things interesting leading up to the closer. Here’s hoping that the starters can pitch the innings needed to give this bullpen time to develop and identity of “let’s try not to give up 3 or more runs per inning”.

So, in a nutshell, it can be said that a lot of optimism surrounds the 2008 Kansas City Royals, as they have the talent and the backing of the ownership to finally spend money and get some proven talent in here. Whether they develop a bond or not remains in question, but I think they are at least stepping in the right direction. If Glass keeps the young talent, look at the Royals to start competing at least for a wild card position in 2010.